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Saturday 29th of January 2011 (Day 4, since the Million March, Tuesday 25th of January 2011)

9:45am

From my window you would think nothing happened yesterday people are out in their cars driving around. It is too early for us to tell what will happen, but, again I am not optimistic.
We are still without mobile phone coverage and Internet.
We have no idea what will happen in the coming days, weeks or months.
There are so many questions whizzing by in my head right now that, I am finding it hard to think. Do we go to work tomorrow or not? Is it a wise thing to do if we have no means of communication? If we do regain our cell/mobile lines should we still risk going?
For now, I think the best thing to do is to stay put, until things become clearer.

Dad calls me to check up on how my friend and I are doing. He tells me that the four tanks stationed outside their apartment building are still in place. It seems to be some kind of tourist attraction; people are coming to greet the soldiers. Some drag their family members along to have their pictures taken and people are making them tea.
He also tells me that the ATM machine that was next to the Muhfza (Goveners Office Building) was ripped out of the ground and taken to Kom El Dekka to be broken in to.
He also told me that he had heard that Carrefour Maadi had been looted but he doesn’t know how accurate the information is.
We, (my family and I) are exhausted. We have been up for most of the night listening to the news and keeping watch for anything unusual.

* At around 10 am we regain cell phone coverage. We are able to receive calls and call out but we still can not send text messages, Blackberry Messenger, What’sapp and Internet are still down.

11am

My friend realizes that she has left her passport and money at her apartment. I knot forms in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to risk our safety by going out, but both items are essential for her to have in-case she needs to be evacuated. She suggests going on her own, but I can’t leave her alone and I don’t want to go anywhere where she might be in danger. I insist that I accompany her to her apartment to collect the items. I’m just thankful that she doesn’t live too far away.
We dress really quickly and make our way to her place. When we first get out of my building everything looks quite normal, but when we hop in to a cab and the car turns the corner to head towards Korba we are met with a completely different scene.
Marghani street that houses the Heliopolis Club and the Presidential Palace is completely blocked off. Riot police, military men and tanks are spread across the width of the street, denying access to cars as well as pedestrians.
Some people walk by taking pictures of the scene, I can’t blame them really. It’s not one that you would see on a day to day basis. Others rush by nervously and intimidated by their presence. While others are sat in a coffee shop and enjoy their mugs of coffee like nothing is happening.
A colleague from work calls to take my land line number in-case the mobile/cell phone lines go down again and to put together a phone tree. She also informed me that school would be closed for until Monday with the possibility of being closed longer.
(GREAT! Last year the school year was disrupted because of Swine flu (H1N1) and now this… these poor kids, haven’t had a stable academic year!)
She also warned that protests would start up again after afternoon prayers, which would be around 1 o’clock.
Upon hearing this, my friend and I increased our stride to try and get to her place and back to mine before things heated up again. We rushed around her place getting the items we came for as well as some clothes and food.
We walked back to my place because traffic was building up due to certain roads being closed off. As soon as we made it home we dropped the stuff off and went to a near by supermarket, Metro, to get more provisions.
When we got there, we couldn’t help but stand with our mouths gaping open at the scene outside and inside the supermarket. Outside of the supermarket was a big tank, filled with unhappy armed soldiers, watching the crowd of people passing by with suspicion. During Ramadan supermarkets are bustling with life and people are stocking up as though they are going in to hiding for a few months. The ambiance of the scores of shoppers was desperate and urgent. When we over came the sight we edged our way inside and split up to get what we needed. The shelves were almost bare. People were stocking up on oil, pasta, eggs, flour, bread, tomato pass as well as other items.
At the checkout I saw one of the supermarket personnel stick a paper on the door stating that the store will be open daily but will close at four o’clock to give the employees enough time to get home before curfew, which has now been moved to 4pm.

We leave the supermarket carrying our supplies in silence, trying to get our minds to comprehend the scene that we had just witnessed and taken part in. How did things go down hill so quickly? Just 2 weeks ago, things were relatively normal. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Could it get worse? I think it might. I need to stay strong and continue to think with a clear mind and put my emotions on the side, otherwise I won’t be able to think straight and will make bad judgment calls. Plus, I need to stay calm for my friend, I don’t need to alarm her more that she already is.

We get home and find out that banks are closed until further notice. That news sends me a warning signal. I go in to my room to check how much cash I have. I have some for now, but will have to try and find a working ATM with money in it tomorrow, so that I can withdraw all the Egyptian currency I have.

Now that we have our cell phones are working again, the calls are coming in fast and furious from abroad. I am very touched by my friends abroad who have gotten through and send their love, prayers, well wishes and concern. It keeps me sane and makes me feel hopeful.
I called one of my cousins in New Jersey to tell him that I’m alright. He proceeded to tell me that his brother had forwarded my last e-mail that I was able to send on Thursday to a radio station and it was read over the air ways.
Two of my close friends in Washington D.C have been following the news religiously and trying to get through to my family and I for the past two days but haven’t been able to. When we were able to get in touch with one another, the relief and excitement in their voice upon hearing mine almost brought me to tears.
It is very humbling to know that there are people who are genuinely worried about your safety and well being.
Friends here in Egypt have been amazing too. Knowing that I’m away from my family and protecting a friend of mine have called me every couple of hours insuring that I’m fine and relaying any new information that we aren’t getting on the news.

4pm

So, much for the curfew! People are still out walking, driving around demonstrating.
As my friend and I are about to sit down to have lunch my friends phone rings and was told the news that employees of BP are going to be airlifted out of Egypt tomorrow.
Hearing the news brought back memories of being in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War back in 1990. Knowing that expats are being evacuated means things that are going to go down hill at an exponential rate.
After lunch I called my sister to see how things were at their end of the country.
I was relieved to hear that they had been able to find an ATM machine, I didn’t want them to be without cash for the next few days.
My Mom’s friend got a call from the Saudi Embassy telling them to evacuate the country as soon as possible.
I still haven’t gotten word from the Canadian Embassy.

Another colleague and friend from work called from work called to check up on me. She lives in Rehab City, (It’s a gated community). She said that the are no longer any security guards standing guard at the gates of the compound, which made them targets for the band of looters. The looters did penetrate the compound, they targeted the stores first and then residences. The male members of the compound came out of their homes armed with nothing but sticks, stones and kitchen knives to defend their families, property and neighborhood.

5:30pm

My best friend calls to say that she just got word that the looters have raided El Rehab and are on their way to Masr El Gadeeda (New Cairo) and to get anything I can use as a weapon and to have a bucket of water and rags by the door in case they try and smoke the tenants out of the homes.

Since I was a little girl I had wanted to join the marines mainly to have a pair of combat boots, but so that I could learn how to use a gun and make a bomb if necessary.
I didn’t waste any time getting in to commando mode, I got out the fire extinguisher and checked that it was full. I got out every sharp knife that I had in the house. I concocted my own recipe of mace made from house hold cleaners, bleach being a key ingredient and filled 3 plastic spray canisters. My Dad’s hunting binoculars were out, so that I could keep watch on the road from my floor.

Being in that state of mind, it didn’t seem in the least bit out of the ordinary, my friend on the other hand was watching me and unable to understand how I was so calm and knowledgeable in making home made mace. I have to admit I surprised myself too. By 6pm I had barricaded the front with a marble top table, arm chair, sofa, and 3 boxes of books. The bucket and rags were by the door incase of an emergency.
Once I had checked off everything on my to do list, to keep calm my friend and I watch a movie to pass the time. We couldn’t watch the movie at a stretch because my best friend calls to say that the looters are now in her neighborhood and can hear gun shots being fired and can see that fires have been lit and smoke rising.

At 6:50 we hear on the news that looters attempted to rob the Cairo Museum, but Egyptians formed a linked arm chain to prevent them from entering and to protect our countries antiquities, artifacts and history. The looters did make it inside by climbing in from the top, they did succeed in damaging artifacts but everything was accounted for. The army has now secured the museum.
Not long after that report a civilian called the news station to inform them that civilians are out in the street defending their homes, because the police no longer exist and the army are under strict instructions not to get involved.
Citizens of Egypt wasted no time in forming neighborhood watches and patrols. Everyone was on high alert and armed with what ever they can find to protect themselves, family and property.

Those are the Egyptians that I came to know when I first moved here in 1991. They would go out of their way to help anyone in distress. The past 5 years those people seemed to have disintegrated, but now they are making a come back.

I look out of my window and see the same scenes that have been described on the TV and by friends. The men of our neighborhood are outside guarding the neighborhood.
I stay up and keep a look out from my flat, with the lights turned off, so that I do not draw attention to myself. Knife close at hand, binoculars around my neck.

1am
The high pitched whistle is sounded, intruders are in the area. Everyone is up and ready. Shouts are heard. Looters are in the neighborhood and very close by. A chase ensues, sticks are clasped in both hands as they run in the direction of where they have been spotted. Shouts ring out that he has taken a side street towards my building. 3 shots next to my building ring out, a mother on the balcony above my flat screams and calls out her sons name. She can’t see him, he isn’t in her line of sight. She calls him on his cell/mobile phone and asks him to come closer to the house, so she can see him.

All is quiet after that…

If you want day by day information of what is going on, follow me on twitter. I am the IrishAlexandria.

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Last week in Egypt there have been two rumors flying around the country that there is something wrong or faulty about the soft drinks.
I received a whatsapp message on my phone on November 29th 2010, it read;
 ‘This is serious I just received a phone call from someone who works for “Pepsi” please do not drink Pepsi, there is a fatal ingredient that was added to Pepsi by mistake, which kills immediately, they are still thinking to make and ad. in the newspaper, but god know how many will die till then, this is not a joke, and it’s not something Coke Cola made up. Please spread it. “
I asked some of my friends about it and apparently they had heard about it too. I have searched on-line to see if anything had been written about it, but I had no luck. There isn’t even anything mentioned on the Pepsi home page and they haven’t released a statement to the press either. So, who knows how true the rumor about Pepsi is and if it is true, drink Pepsi at your own risk.

Four days ago, on December thirds, another friend sends another message to my phone telling me that there is something wrong with the fizzy drinks and there was something written in the Al Ahram news paper page 3.
I asked another friend of mine who had the paper to tell me what it said and what he told me was quite mind-blowing!
There’s a factory in Sharkiyah that imitated the bottling of some of the well-known brands of soft drinks and sold it on a massive scale to leading supermarket chains. The government had seized 20,000 bottles. The worst part is they haven’t gotten all of the distributed products back, there is more being sold to unknown consumers as you read this.
I couldn’t help but think how good the knock off products must have been to be able to full the supermarket chains and the consumers who have bought the bottles of soda. To stay on the safe side, when I have a soda craving, I’ll by the can rather than the plastic bottle.

If you think about it, this could be the biggest scam of all time in Egypt.

The month of fasting known to the Muslim world is coming to an end. With less than 24 hours to go we eagerly wait for the sun to set and for the four days of festivities of Eid El Fitr to begin.

Eid El Fitr ‘The festivity of purification’, I think is the best way to translate the name of the occasion. If you haven’t read my previous writings about Ramadan or know nothing of the month, then this won’t make any sense to you. So, I will try to give you a brief summary. Ramadan, is a month where Muslims world-wide fast from sunrise to sunset, (are not allowed to consume any kind of food or beverage during sunlight hours), this strict act of discipline is to remind them of their blessings, to relate to those less fortunate of themselves, as well as time for reflecting on one’s acts and behavior for the past year. This month is special and sacred to Muslims because they are able to ask for forgiveness and erase their sins for the past year. Hence, the celebration of being ‘purified’.  

How is Eid El Fitr (or the small Eid) celebrated?

Days before the end of the fasting month, families go out and buy Eid clothes, to wear on the first day of the feast. For Non Muslim’s the best way to interpret the act is as new clothes that you receive for Christmas or wearing your Sunday best. Traffic in Egypt after Iftar and the Taraweeh Prayers is always manic! People will be shopping for gifts and clothes.

Ladies of many house holds will be preparing and baking traditional desert, (which is HIGH in calories, but very tasty) to offer visitors. The desert is called ‘Ka’ak’, which means cake in English. It doesn’t look or taste anything like the cakes you may be familiar with. Each Arabic speaking nation has its own unique way of making it. In Egypt is best described as a cookie/biscuit made out of semolina and stuffed with ground dates, nuts or some times Turkish delight. On the outside it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka’ak)

On the dawn of the first day of the month after Ramadan, (Shawal), there is a special prayer, most commonly known as ‘Salat El Eid’ (Eid Prayer). “Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, squares etc or at mosques. No adhan or iqama (call) is to be pronounced for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two rakaʿāt with additional 6 Takbirs. The Eid prayer is followed by the khutbah (sermon) and then a supplication (dua) asking for forgiveness, mercy and help for all living beings across the world. The khutbah also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat.[9] Listening to the khutbah of Eid is necessary (wajib) i.e. while the khutbah is being delivered, it is haraam to talk, walk about or offer prayer.[10] It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side of oneself, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.”  (The above quoted paragraph is from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr )

The greeting that is said to those celebrating Eid is ‘ Eid Mubarak’, (Blessed Feast), ‘Eid Saeed’ (Happy Eid) or ‘Kul Sana Wa Inta Tayib’ (Happy New Year).

Traditionally after the prayer families will go to the cemetery to pay their respects to their deceased family members and then go home to enjoy breakfast together. Once home, families either exchange gifts or give money. Children often receive money from their adult family relations; this is known as ‘Eideya’. People will go and visit relatives, neighbors and friends often taking with them ka’ak, other deserts or gifts.

On the second and third day of Eid families usually go out for a meal. In Alexandria the restaurant or meal of choice would usually be fish. The reason for it is because for a whole month Alexandrian’s have avoided eating it because it’s salty and would make them feel very thirsty the following day and it would make their day of fasting more difficult.   Another popular out would be to go to the cinema, to watch the newly released Arabic movies for the feast.  A word of warning to those whom may consider venturing outside their front doors, the food courts, cinemas and arcades in the Malls will be busier than ever!

Now a days fewer people spend time visiting relatives and go away for the Eid vacation. Popular vacation spots are Alexandria and the beaches along the Red Sea. I personally try to avoid the popular vacation spots because, it will be overly crowded. When I go away, I like to go somewhere, where I can relax in peace and not have to worry about bumping in to colleagues, students and other people I know.

During the Eid most shops, banks and all businesses are closed for the first three days of the feast, much like Christmas and New Years in the West and Europe. If you aren’t going away and intend on staying in town, then I suggest you do your shopping before the holiday begins.

For those of you who celebrate Eid, I wish you all an Eid Mubarak and for those of you who don’t, just enjoy the time off!

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month in the Hijra Calendar. Ramadan for those of you who are not familiar with it is the Muslim’s holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. During this month Muslims world-wide go about their daily routines but while they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and (uhmm) no hanky panky until sunset. The act of fasting is meant to be a way to teach Muslims how to be patience as well as modest. It is also a time for reflection, prayer and spirituality. In prayer Muslim’s ask God (Allah) for forgiveness for the sins that they have committed during the past year. They will also ask God to give them strength to guide them and help them stay away from temptation and evil. It is also a time for thinking of those less fortunate than themselves. You will find that people give bags filled with rice, pasta, oil, sugar, tomato paste and other things. These gifts are usually given to the hired help, bawabs (care taker of the building) and anyone whom you think is needy at the beginning of the month. There are tents that are set up across the city, to feed those who can not afford to feed themselves. The food is for free and they are often given money at a value of 10LE. The five prayers that a Muslim is expected to pray on a daily basis do not change. An additional prayer takes place only during the Month of Ramadan and that is known as the Taraweeh. You will find that after Iftar (breaking of the fast) many people will leave their homes with their prayer mats and Quraan to go to the mosque to take part in the prayer. Depending on the Sheikh of the month, the prayers could last to over an hour. Also during the month Muslim’s should read their holy book, The Quraan from beginning to end. It was during the month of Ramadan that the first verses of the Quraan were revealed to the Prophet Mohamed. So, as you can imagine, this is a VERY spiritual time in Muslim countries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramadan

What to expect during Ramadan

What I really like about the month is that it is a time when families come together to break their fast and relatives that aren’t seen often come over to break fast or to have suhour. Suhour is the late night snack/meal that people will have to help them get through the next day without being hungry. It is supposed to be a simple affair but over the years it has grown in to a BIG event, like a dinner party. During this time, it would be best that you eat at home. The restaurants will not be functioning to their full capacity and the food won’t be as good. Try not to go out to a restaurant for Iftar, because you will not be satisfied with the service or the quality of the food. Working hours (government offices, companies and schools) will start later and end earlier. You will find that most of the people who are addicted to coffee or smoking are not in the best of moods during this month, their cranky and can be quite stand offish too. A word to the wise, if you are doing renovations, work in a factory you will find that your staff will not be putting in 100% effort and are best described as lazy. They will use the excuse of fasting for their lack of concentration. When you go to supermarkets you will probably find a low supply of rice, pasta, oil and sugar. People buy all of this in BULK! If you want an easy time shopping then I suggest you wake up early on Friday morning and head over to your supermarket and shop while everyone is sound a sleep and tucked away in bed, otherwise expect to do some defense shopping. Peoples driving skills become worse and they lose their tempers a lot faster than they normally would. When it’s close to breaking their fast, people drive so fast like bats out of hell that I think that even Michael Schumacher would be terrified. At sunset the streets are deserted and peaceful! That is when everyone is home sitting around the dinning room table breaking their fast.

https://speakingupandspeakingoutfromcairo.wordpress.com/

 

After a wonderful vacation with family in the UK and sight-seeing in London, I have returned to the reality of my every day life. It was a much needed break from my routine and I feel as though my energy levels have been revitalized and I am ready to face another year of teaching, studying, self-improvement and writing but I come back wishing I was still in England and questioning what possessed me to return. 

The BMI flight to Cairo from Heathrow was fantastic. It didn’t feel like a four hour flight and getting through immigration and customs at Cairo Airport was a piece of cake and stress free. It was quick and pain-free. Usually it’s a bloody night mare! 

My mother and I made it back to Alexandria in one piece and settled in like two peas in a pod.  By this time I’m thinking…’maybe this isn’t so bad’, that was until I was sent out to do the grocery shopping because the cupboards were bare and the fridges were hollow. So, I hopped in to my car and make my way to Carrefour, park the car, enter in to the building, and walk over to the hyper market and that’s when it hits me. ‘I AM BACK!’ 

The scene before me was one of shopping chaos. It can best be described as a shopping competition to see who can get the most groceries in their trolley. Why? Well, the Islamic month of fasting, known as Ramadan will be starting in about 2 weeks time. For some unknown reason it sends everyone in Egypt in to a frenzy! If you could see the way they shop you would swear that they were going to go in to hibernation for the Fall and Winter or they were going to go underground and want to take as many provisions as they possibly can. The pasta and rice section of the supermarket was as bare as the cupboards at home. What really boggles my mind is that they know Ramadan is coming, it’s not a surprise and the supermarkets aren’t going any where why do they have to by 20 Kilos of rice and pasta in one shot? They aren’t even on offer! 

As I stand at the entrance trying to regain my senses I get a cart and enter the Ramadan shopping madness. I felt like I was in a Play Station Game going around scoring points for every item I was able to find on the shopping list. I don’t think I would have been as calm as I was if I hadn’t had my iPod to listen too. The noise level in the Hyper Marché was as bad as the sound of Cairo traffic. I took me 2 HOURS to get the shopping done!! Why? Well, at first I was still in Euro mode, waiting patiently in line and following the universal rules of shopping etiquette, but when it’s Ramadan Madness shopping you throw those rules out and go in to defense shopping. You edge your way sneakily towards the items that you are targeting and as quick as a pick pocket you put it in to your trolley before anyone else snatches it. When you wait in line to have your veg and fruit weighed or when you are paying for the groceries you block any potential line cutters with your cart or your back. 

By the time I got home I wasn’t in the best of moods because the porter/bowab/care taker of the building was nowhere to be found, (surprise, surprise) and I had to make 3 trips from where I had parked the car up to the apartment to get everything home. Without a word of a lie, I remained silent for the rest of the night and didn’t utter a word. 

I just couldn’t believe the contrast in shopping at Tesco’s to shopping at Carrefour! I don’t know why I get culture shock every time I come back. I know how things are done here, but I suppose that I get used to a simpler and polite way of dealing with people on my trips abroad that I come back hoping that things have changed here.

To avoid the Family Fued of shopping, the best time to go shopping is at 10am when the shops first open.  Actually make it a GOLDEN RULE to shop at that time all the time!

I love traveling abroad and visiting my family and friends who are scattered around the globe. I love buying them trinkets and gifts from Egypt too, but it can be difficult finding something that doesn’t look cheap, isn’t made in China and is authentic to the country or region. This summer I’m traveling to England to visit family and see a few friends and for the past couple of months I have been racking my brain trying to think of gifts to take. I’m sure that there are many people going through the same dilemma that I am experiencing so, I thought I would give you some insight.
The first time I take something to people, who are not from Egypt or have never visited the country, I take papyrus (paper the ancient Egyptians made) with ancient Egyptian scenes painted on or hieroglyphics. They are really nice when they are framed and hung on the wall.
Silver here is quite cheap, so some times I may buy silver khartooshes as bracelet charms, key chains or necklaces with their names written in hieroglyphics (ancient Egyptian writing). There is also the key of life and evil eye charm that could be bought and put on a chain. They also have a wide selection of Bedouin jewelry too that is very nice. I am a fan of the bracelets and necklaces.  I do need to point out that Egyptian silver tarnishes easily, so you may want to ask the vendor to dip them in platinum or something so that it stays nice and shiny.
Alabaster is a type of stone that is very Egyptian and you can find some small vases and statues made out of the sand colored stone. To test the quality of the alabaster you need to hold it up to the light. If the light shines through the stone and lights it up, then its real alabaster. Don’t buy too much of it, you fortune in access baggage.
In some shops you can find small clay statues of Egyptian men and women selling vegetables, smoking a sheesha (hubbly bubbly), sitting reading the Quraan and other typical scenes you would see while you are here in Egypt. I think they are very cute! I bought a few for myself to have at home.
Leather in Egypt is of good quality. Wallets, shoulder purses, hand bags and Aladdin like shoes are a popular item to buy as gifts. Some people even prefer buying the small leather poof cushions to take back with them.
If baggage isn’t a problem, then you could buy your very own sheesha (they come in all sizes and colors) or a Tableya, a large bras plate that is the top of a table with designs etched in to it and the wooden legs that hold the table up an in place. The Bedouins use these in their tents.

If you are in to smoking Sheesha’s then I strongly recommend that you buy the tobacco for it here, it is highly over priced when you buy it abroad. Plus another advantage is that here we have all the flavors, while back home they don’t have the variety.
While we are on the subject of smoking, I know a lot of people like to burn incense to make their homes smell nice. This is the place to buy it!
If the gifts that I am taking are for kids then I get them little statuettes of pyramids to take for show and tell at school, camels, Bedouin head-dress with the white galabeya (long shirt like dress), belly dancing costume, both are good for Halloween costumes. Then you have the tabla (the drum musicians place under their arms to play) and sagaat (finger castanets that belly dancers wear). In some toy stores you might find Egyptian puppets. There are also the touristy T-shirts with hieroglyphics on them and the death mask of Tutankhamen (the youngest Egyptian Pharaoh). One of my favorite things to get kids is an inexpensive watch where the numbers of the face are in Arabic.
A place to go to buy all the trinkets and souvenir’s your heart could possibly desire is at Khan El Khalili, in Cairo. There you will find every kind, color, shape and price possible. I personally like going there to buy the Bedouin embroidered shirts, linen tops, Bedouin cushion covers and to haggle! In Alexandria, you would want to take a guided tour of Zanet El Sitat. Both are market like places.You have to be a good bargainer. Never settle for the first price they offer you!
The above are some of the typical gifts that people would buy as souvenirs or gifts, but what do you take the next time you go? You can’t keep getting the same things! I am quite creative and I like to put a lot of thought in to the gifts that I buy people. This year I have really racked my brain and kept my eyes peeled for something less touristy and more tasteful. I am happy to inform you that I have been successful.
Carlito’s, jewelry store in Maadi is will make you a bracelet, pendent or even a key chain with your name in Arabic. It is done in Arabic calligraphy, which is very artistic. They will make it to your specification. By that I mean on the size of the pendent, charms for the bracelet and key chain. You also have 3 other choices; all silver, all gold or silver and gold (I like the silver and gold combination). I have had 7 pendants made for necklaces, 1 silver key chain and 1 charm bracelet and they have all come out really well! Another thing that he does which I think is pretty cool, is that he takes the new Egyptian 1 pound coin and makes it in to a necklace too. Why is it cool, because one side of the coin is Arabic writing and on the other side is King Tut.
Zafir in Zamalek is one of my new favorite stores to go to, to buy gifts for friends in Egypt and abroad. They print Egyptian designs on t-shirts that are unique to Egypt. I just bought my cousin a t-shirt that says ‘Shit happens’ but in Arabic writing. They have a few other English sayings written in Arabic as well as famous Egyptian quotes too among other designs too. I will have to pay them a second visit before I am due to leave to get a few more. They are so popular that they go out of stock quickly. .http://zafir-tshirts.com/

A colleague of mine had a gorgeous leather bag that she had bought in Maadi from a shop on road 216. It also has very cool arabic caligraphy on the exterior! The price tag on a bag like that is 300LE which is the equivalant of 30 sterling pounds or 60$.

If you have Egyptian female family members abroad and you want to take them something patriotic and elegent, famed and reouned jewelry designer, Azza Fahymy has designed bracelets in honour of #Jan25. The collection is known to many as ‘Anna Masry’, (I am Egyptian). The price tag for each bracelet, I have been told is 250 LE.

 

It’s a small street on 15b Taha Hussein Street.
Zia Candles in Alexandria, in the new extension of Carrefour city center has a stand near Debenhams. If you ask them to make a candle for you and have a name written on it in Arabic Calligraphy, they will do it for you. It will take about 2 weeks for them to get it done, but it is well worth it! We had one made for our cousin and it is so well made and original that we have asked them to make two more for us. They will be bringing their original idea to Cairo soon.

*** Update! Unfortunately due the recent Revolution the owner has closed shop! If they ever re-open I will let you know
There are stands in City Stars and Carrefour that sell soaps and other beauty products along with bath robes and towels. The stall sells things made from natural products grown here in Egypt. The stall in Alexandria is called ‘Nefertari’; I am not sure what the one in Cairo is called. Some of their hand towels have ancient Egyptian symbols stitched on them or the words ‘Ahlan Wesahlan’, which is welcome greeting we say when guests arrive at our house and some times when you meet someone for the first time.
Egypt and the Middle East are known for dates. Some times it’s nice to take back some of or oriental treats for the people back home to try. Quaidar in Cairo makes chocolate covered dates that can be quite addictive. Manna in Alexandria sells an assortment of date treats. We bought 5 boxes last summer and took them to our cousins in Ireland and my Uncle in Canada.
If the person you are buying a gift for is a book-worm or in to photography then I highly recommend ‘Impressions of Alexandria, The Awad Collection’. The pictures in the book show the evolution of Alexandria. Mr. Awad has spent years searching and collecting pictures of the ancient city belonging to Alexander the Great and has compiled his findings in to a book. If you are interested in seeing the collection first hand you will find it on display at the Alexandria Library. There is also a book of Poems and Prose written by an Irish man, Desmond O’Grady, who used to teach at AUC, (The American University of Cairo) and Alexandria University, it is titled ‘My Alexandria’. If your friend is from the region and can read Arabic, a book that has been getting a lot of hype and is said to be very funny is ‘Taxi’, (I just bought it for my Dad’s cousin).
If there’s someone that you know that likes music, Arabic CD’s here are cheap. I would suggest buying Oriental Belly dancing music, it’s just instrumental. If you want to buy a CD of famous singers, the classical ones would be Um Kathoum and Abdel Halim Hafez and Dalida. Modern day Egyptian Pop singers would be Amr Diab, Hisham Abbas, Tamer Hosni, Sherine, Wust El Balad and Hakeem. Other popular Middle Eastern singers are Asala, Elissa, Nancy Ajram, Nawal El Zoghbi, Ragheb Allama just to name a few. One of my favorite CD’s to buy as a gift that can be found at Virgin Record Stores is ‘Belaaks’, (opposite) it’s easy on the ears and the tunes are familiar English classics but sung in Arabic, plus there is a DVD that goes with it too.
I hope these ideas help you if you have found or know of something that would be a great gift to take to family or friends I would REALLY appreciate the input.

lunch had at FratelliAlexandria is where I call home in Egypt. It’s where I spent my teenage years, graduated from High School and University and where my family still lives. There is a mysterious charm about the place and I can’t get enough of it. It has a unique mix of culture, you can still sense the European presence that once existed, and the Mediterranean laid back attitude and the Egyptian hospitality.

When I am in Cairo I long to be in Alexandria with my family and going for early Friday morning walks along the Corniche (sea road).
It is an unspoken ritual/tradition that Fridays are family days and on that day we give our mothers a rest from laboring in the kitchen and go out to eat. My Dad loves food and I think I inherited his passion for it. He enjoys trying new restaurants and cuisine.

In this post I am going to recommend some of the restaurants my family and I have been to and like and others that I have tried and have gone back to several times.
Carrefour Shopping center
Makanni
Of all the Egyptian restaurant chains, Makani is my favorite. It has a western twist to its food. I am a sucker for their chicken corn salad. My sister on the other hand can’t get enough of their Sushi. The Restaurant is located in the new section of Carrefour.
Café Supremo
A Canadian chain that has opened in Carrefour is a nice place to go for a light lunch. I was there last weekend with my mother and sister and I really enjoyed my plate of Quesada’s and I heard no complaints from my mother or sister.
Supremo is the only place in Alexandria that has bagels. If you had a craving for one, then you need to head down there. It is as good as the real bagels you buy in Canada but its close enough.
12/8/2011
* My last two visits to the place were in October and in April and i found the service to be a bit slow, waiters forgetful and disorganized at times.
If none of those interest you, there is a food court in the mall too.
Spectra

The Cairo restaurant that serves food similar to Coffee Roastary and reminds me a lot of pub lunches have opened in Alexandria. It has two locations. The first is in the Downtown complex opposite Carrefour City Center and the other is inside Montazah.
My parents have gone there a few times in my absence and have enjoyed it. They especially liked the deserts that were on the menu.
I went with them on two occasions since having posted the post months ago and I have to say that I enjoyed both meals I had there.
Balbaa

Balbaa Restaurant is located in the Downtown complex opposite the Carrefour City Center shopping mall. The restaurant has two levels; the first is for more traditional food like Kofta, Kabab, Pigeon and other tantalizing dishes. The fresh basket of mini baked Arabic bread and Mezzas are served before the meal. They are so good that you find it hard to restrain yourself from eating too much before your main course arrives. Everything is cooked fresh.
The 2nd level is for sea food. I am a sea food junky!! I love fish! I enjoy picking the fresh fish that I’m going to eat, along with calamari, muscles and occasionally shrimp and instructing the attending mongers my preference on how I like it cooked. While you are waiting Mezzas and a fresh basket of bread are put down in front of you whilst you wait for your meal. I have been to many fish restaurants in Alexandria, but this I find to be the best and great value for your money. I recommend going before the restaurant gets too busy, It’s best to go at around 2pm.
Chili’s

If you like American/Mexican food, then Chili’s is the place to go for your Nachos and cheese, crispy chicken, Texas fries, Fajita’s and Burgers. I must admit that the food is good. I especially enjoy their salad selection, country fried chicken, their refill basket of salsa and chips and their chocolate molten lava cake!
De La Vega

Is a café and restaurant located above Chili’s. I like going there to chill and relax with a large number of friends. It’s open air and the seating is really comfortable. If you want to go for a snack and sheesha then I would recommend going there.
Mykonos
I love the name of the place and the décor too. The place has that Greek atmosphere about it with its white walls and blue shutters. My sister and her friends really enjoy going there for their sheesha. I treated my family for lunch there and if my father had no complaints about the service, location or the food then it has to be good. Having worked in restaurants and bakeries during his student years, he has very high expectations when it comes to where he eats out.
There are 2 other restaurants next to Mykonos that you may also enjoy. I believe all 3 are owned by the same person(s) because if you wish to order something from either of the other restaurants you can.
Weiner Café
In the same area and line as the restaurants mentioned above is Weiner Café unfortunately doesn’t serve my favorite hot dog brand, but if you like chocolate like the ladies in my family do, then this is the place in Alex to indulge. Their chocolate fondue with Belgian chocolate is not to be missed. My parents, who aren’t big coffee drinkers, do enjoy going there to have a Cappuccino and Café Late.
12/8/2011
* I went there in April and found that the standard of service has dropped and the place seems to be a bit run down. The chocolate is still good!
If you drive behind the Alexandria International Gardens you will find a string of clubs and restaurants.
Fratelli
It is a private club that mainly expats go to, to spend the day by the pool and to have lunch. You pay for the use of the facilities (Pool & Gym) each time you go there. If you aren’t interested in swimming, tanning or working out but would like to go somewhere open aired and with foliage, then you might be interested in going there for lunch. I have eaten there several times and I really enjoy the food as well as the ambiance.
Alegria (restaurant/pub)
This is a very modern and hip place to go to in the evenings. It is especially popular on Thursday and Friday nights, to guarantee a place from 9pm on wards on either of those nights, you need to book in advance. You can have a meal there or order a variety of delicious appetizers while you socialize or listen to the D.J spin some tracks.
According to their facebook group;
Sundays they have live Guitarist playing.
Tuesdays is Karaoke themed night
to reserve call; Michael, Mobile: 0182878224 , Tel: 03-3822797

Ole

The restaurant and bar is named after the Swiss owner. Christina is a Swiss trained chef, who moved to Alexandria with her husband many years ago. She lives in Agami and the restaurant is a part of the house. It is a very quaint and cozy place to go to for a meal or to have drinks with friends. There have been many occasions where people will start jamming on the piano and before you know it everyone starts belting out songs and joining in on the fun.In Kafr Abdu, Roushdy area there is a restaurant/café called Ole. It has a Spanish theme and is very nicely decorated. My mother loves going to Ole for a meal. Her favorite dish there is the fish and I have to admit that I love their sea food paella and California salad. The food is delicious and the service is friendly and old school. Their deserts are something not to be missed either.
Another good thing about Ole is that if you are having a dinner party and aren’t a very good cook, they will cater.

Cilantro


Cilantro is one of my favorite cafes to go to and hang out with friends. The juices, sandwiches and salads are made freshly every day. It has a very calm atmosphere.
The café is located next to Ole and opposite the building where the Tamarin Center (exercise) center is. There are several branches in Alexandria and Cairo.

Fresca and Blue
Both cafés are located in the newly built Four Seasons Hotel in San Stefano overlooking the sea. Fresca is on the ground floor opposite the main entrance to the hotel lobby. I like going there during the day for a light lunch. It’s a very popular place to go out to eat. Blue is located on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the hotel. It’s open air and overlooks the cornice and sea. It’s a great place to be at sunset. I haven’t eaten there but my friends enjoy going. I like going for the view and to relax and chat with friends.
The hotel sometimes has a café open on the hotels private beach.
Trianon


Is a café located on the cornich very close to the Ramada hotel. It’s a nice café to go to in the evening with friends to have sheesha, a light snack and drinks (nonalcoholic). If you sit in the outside area of the café you have a nice vie of the sea.
Down Town Alexandria
12/8/2011
The Greek Club (serves alcohol)
There are 2 Greek Clubs (that I know of) in Alexandria, one is located in the Alexandria bay area, next to the yacht club and the Qayat Bay Fort. It has recently been renovated and has an elevator that takes you up to the restaurant. The view from the restaurant terrace at any time of day is breath taking! They menu has many familiar Greek dishes, I have to say since the last time I was there a couple of years ago the standard has improved and the food is good, but not GREAT.
The second Greek Club is located next to the Azzareeta tram line, across from a gas station. If you are not a member you need to pay an entrance fee to go in. The club is nothing luxurious but it’s a great place to go to, to get away from the daily harassment that one is exposed to. The club is mostly open air and spacious. It is quiet and with all the Greek, French and Armenian that you here, you tend to forget that you’re in Egypt. There is a quaint little restaurant and bar on the premises. The owner, of the restaurant Nicolas is usually there in the evenings over seeing how things are run. The food there is fresh and tasty. A great place to go to for a brief get away.

Athenos (serves alcohol)
This old restaurant/café is over 100 years old. It is just a few minutes’ walk from Mahatat El Raml Square. The place isn’t as glorious as it used to be back in its day, but I have to admit that its location is nicely located. It is right on the Corniche and if you are lucky enough to have a window seat then you have an excellent view of the Mediterranean.
There aren’t many places you can go to in Alexandria where you will be served Alcoholic beverages, but you can get a cold beer there. I sometime like to go there early in the morning for breakfast to have a chocolate croissant and lemonade.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library)
Outside on the premises of the Library grounds there is a string of cafe’s that have an outside view of the Planetarium, Library and Cornish Sea view. Hilton Cafe, Cilanto, Cinnabon and a few others.
The Cecil Hotel
One of the oldest and expensive hotels in Alexandria has still got its charm and class. Did you know that Churchill and Agatha Christi stayed there? The place has a lot of history, so much in fact that it was on CNN. On the roof of the hotel is a Chinese restaurant. I am not a huge fan of Asian food but I have to admit that it is very good. The view from the roof top at night is magical. You are sitting under a blanket of stars an can see Alexandria bay lit up and on a clear night you can see the lights from ships in the distance and if you ever think of proposing to someone, this is probably the best place to do it.
The Imperial Cafe
Is a cafe right next door to the Cecil Hotel overlooking the square. It is newly renovated and i have to admit it was my first time to set foot in the place in July and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the service and it’s over all standard. I would definitely drop by again in the near future.

Delice (has a bar, cafe and restaurant)
Is another other café that has been around for decades. I enjoy going there because when I sit and look around I can imagine myself sitting next to some of the colonials back in the 1930. This is another place where I enjoy going to have breakfast early in the morning. Their pancakes are nice, but if you want to try something different, then try the Greek cheese pie. They have a nice bakery too. I love their giant macaroons and meringues. My elderly neighbor, Madame Yamna (God rest her soul), loved their petit four biscuits from there. So when ever, I would go to visit her, I would buy her a box. This is another place you can go to, to have a beer.
St. Lucia (serves alcohol)

This fine dining restaurant is located opposite Cinema Metro and the Elite Café, where the famous Greek writer Cavafy used to sit and write. I used to go to St. Lucia when I would come to visit my Grandmother in the summers. I loved going there because the waiters spoke at least 5 to 7 languages. My Dad liked it too because he would practice his Greek with them. The restaurant has changed hands since then, the waiters are long gone but the history of the place is still there.
It has been renovated and the prices have sky rocketed. If you want to go out for a night of wine and dining this is the place. Next to the café is another old café called Asteria. It’s a very quiet place and few people go in there. My Grandmother and I used to go there together after having begged and dragged her to the Toy shop to buy the latest Barbie doll (I collected them), she would have ice cream and tea, while I would have sport cola and ice cream.
Elite Cafe
After years of being closed and undergoing renovation, it has finally reopened. I must confess, that I have not ventured in side (yet) but I fully intend to. This cafe holds a great deal of history and many childhood memories for me. At this very cafe sat some of the greatest modern day writers of the Mediterranean. One of which is the famed Greek writer Cavafy, who is best known for his poem Ethica. The old lady, who used to own the cafe, would tell you stories of when they would come in and sit and write. As a child when I used to come on holidays, this was one of the cafe’s we would sit at in the evenings and I would drink my 7 Up and have a bowl of ice cream.
Abu Sid (used to be Pastroudis)
On the corner of Cinema Amir, there used to be one of the most popular cafes, Pastroudis. I remember many summers going for a walk with my parents to this location on Fouad street, just a few minutes’ walk from my Grandmother’s house and sitting there watching the men with hantours (carriages) taking their passengers for a ride.
It has now been transformed in to the very popular oriental restaurant Abu Sid. I haven’t gone to eat there yet, but my mother went with a friend of hers for lunch recently. She said she really enjoyed the meal, but was flabbergasted at the prices.
Chez Gaby (serves alcohol)

When I first moved to Alexandria, there were very few good restaurants. The number of restaurants since I move here in the early 90s has more than quadrupled. Chez Gaby was one of the best places to go to. I remember going there after school with my friend and her mother for pizza. It was the best pizza I had had in months. To this day their pizzas are still very good. Their food reminds me a lot of Maison Thomas in Cairo. The restaurant is located very close to St. Lucia. It’s a couple of streets behind it.
* Alcohol is served
Déjà vu (serves alcohol)
Déjà vu (formally known as Far and Away) is a pub, (one of the very few in Alexandria)
it’s probably one of the most popular places to go to on a Thursday or a Friday night. If you want to go and have a bite to eat, the food there is good and if you want to go watch a football match or have a dance this is where you need to head.
It’s very close to the Said Darweesh Theater.
Grand Café, Chicken Tikka and Fish Market
The three restaurants are located in the same area. They are on the sea side of the Corniche road. The three are very popular places to go for a meal in Alexandria. The food there is always good. The staff is friendly and professional. The portion size for the price they charge is something that I don’t agree with. I don’t mind forking out the money every now and then when I want to treat myself.
Of the three, I prefer the Fish Market and Chicken Tikka.
Agami
Agami is a very old beach resort outside of the city. If you take the new road to Bianki Agami it should take you about twenty minutes driving. If you take the old route via the desert road it would take you half an hour or more.
I have spent almost 2 decades of my summers there. My Great Uncle had a villa right on the beach and when the family sold it my father bought and built his own. If you can’t afford to go abroad for the summer then you have to spend it somewhere by the sea. (Just make sure that it is private beach that you go to, otherwise you will be harassed!!!)
I met some of my closest and best friends in Bianki. The majority of them are like me of mixed ethnicity. It’s also where a lot of the old Alexandrians prefer to go during the summer. At one point Agami was like the Rivera of the Middle East. It has lost its status to the more modern and posh resorts that have been built further up the North Coast.
Two of my favorite Restaurants are in Agami.

Wagihe’s Steak house.
The owner of this little restaurant is a one man show! He runs the place, cooks the food and serves. The word I would use to describe the food would be…German! I have no idea why…but I think it has a lot to do with the ambience of the place and the German memorabilia he has on the walls. The steak there is mouthwatering; the French fries are homemade steak fries! Going there once is not enough! It’s a popular place people go to when they are heading back from the beach and want to tame their hunger pains.
The restaurant is on the main street of Bianki.
Christina’s

The restaurant and bar is named after the Swiss owner. Christina is a Swiss trained chef, who moved to Alexandria with her husband many years ago.
She lives in Agami and the restaurant is a part of the house. It is a very quaint and cozy place to go to for a meal or to have drinks with friends. There
have been many occasions where people will start jamming on the piano and before you know it everyone starts belting out songs and joining in on the fun.

If there are places you have been to and liked, please recommend them to me and my readers by leaving a comment.

This morning I awoke from my slumber short of breath and feeling far to warm for first thing in the morning. This indicated to me, that summer has officially arrived.  Instantly I knew that today was going to be scorching hot! When the air seems to be hot, still and dry, you know it’s going to be an uncomfortably hot day. In Cairo it’s a dry heat. In Alexandria, it’s humid and hot. Frankly, I no longer know which is worse, nor do I particularly care as long as I can keep cool.

I have found on days like today when the temperature reaches 42 celsius, that the best thing to wear is a long-sleeved light-colored top,  loose trousers and comfortable shoes.  Wearing tank tops or spaghetti strap tops, doesn’t help make you feel cooler. It has the opposite effect, it actually makes you feel hotter because your skin is exposed to direct sun light. Keep hydrating your skin and applying lotion or sunblock. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated and if you have to be out doors a light-colored cap to protect your head from the sun. If you can dip the cap in water, that’s even better. I personally avoid drinking carbonated drinks and eating foods that are loaded with sugar or are extreamly salty because it just makes you more thirsty. You can not drink enough water on a day like today. 

If you are lucky enough to be at home on a day like today, then turn on the air-condition and make your movements minimal.  Galabeya’s ( long cotton shirt dresses that can be worn by men and women) are garments that lots of people wear in the comfort of their own home. My mother has an abundance of them and loves wearing them around the house to keep cool.   I personally wear shorts and t-shirts in doors. It’s days like today where you can have the air-conditioner on the coolest temperature and it may not feel as though its making a bit of difference. To help the air-conditioner work better switch off unnecessary lights and close the blinds, shutters or curtains to help cool down the room.

I love home cooked meals but on days like this, the thought of being in the kitchen and cooking is like being in a sauna. I recommend that you go with salads, cold cuts and fruits.

If you’re vacationing by the sea or pool, try to avoid the beaches at the hottest time between noon and 3:30pm). If you want to be out at that time make sure you wear a VERY high factor sunblock (I’m a fan of Nivea and Coppertone), keep applying it generously even if you are sitting under the shade of an umbrella (trust me, you can still get badly burnt. I am speaking from experience).  For those of you who want a tan, believe me when I say, even with sun block on, you can get a tan. Keep your head cool to avoid sun stroke and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

If you are unfortunate and get sun stroke, then go back to your room, take a bath (add Ice if you can) or shower in cold water. If you get burnt, take a cold shower and apply 100%  Aloe Vera gel it is great to reduce the prickly heat feeling and the itching. Another ulternative solution is to apply plain yohgurt to the burned areas. It works like magic!!!

If you are a car owner, then I strongly suggest you put the sun visor up. I think having 2 is better than having one. One for the windscreen and one for the back window. It helps keep the temperature inside the car a few degrees cooler. If you don’t have a visor or don’t want to use one, well at least put a cloth over your steering wheel and your gear stick. The temperature is hot enough to burn your hand. When you head back to your car, leave the windows or the doors open for at least 5-10 minutes before switching on the air-conditioner. It helps get rid of the hot air that was trapped inside the car and will help the car to cool down faster.

If your kids are tired of being cooped up and being indoors and you don’t feel like going to the pool. The malls (City Center, City Stars..etc)are another alternative. They can have fun at the indoor amusement parks or take them to the cinema. It is more costly, but you have central air-conditioning!!

My favorite way to keep cool is drinking watermelon juice or lemon juice. My favorite things to eat in weather like this are watermelon, salads and ICE CREAM!

If you have any suggestions that you would like to share, please do so !